• Seated Woman on a Bench

    • Formed through powerful gestural strokes that evoke the artist’s intense immersion into the material, Seated Woman on a Bench, 1972, is a stellar achievement in de Kooning's life-long fascination with the human figure. 


      De Kooning's formidable mastery of fluid movement and kinetic energy in painting seems to radiate through his intensely tactile sculptures. As the renowned art critic Claire Stouling wrote in her text on de Kooning’s sculptures, “The relationship between sculpture and painting often evoked in de Kooning’s work is also a response to his desire for simplification. To grasp the painting fully in his hands, to construct it concretely, is to unite the two modes in order to assure precision and immediacy of expression.”i  
       

      Willem de Kooning, Untitled (Woman), c. 1974. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Photo credit SCALA / Art Resoruce, Artwork © Willem de Kooning / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
      Willem de Kooning, Untitled (Woman), c. 1974. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Photo credit SCALA / Art Resource, Artwork © Willem de Kooning / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

      Willem de Kooning’s fascination with sculpture developed at the height of his career and only piqued his interest for a remarkably short period of time between 1969-1974. De Kooning produced twenty-five sculptural creations, of which Seated Woman on a Bench was one. His fascination with the medium was initiated by a two-month hiatus spent in Rome in 1969. During that time, he paid a visit to a close friend, the artist Herzl Emanuel. Emanuel, who owned a small Bronze foundry in Trastevere, invited de Kooning to produce a series of thirteen small clay sculptures that were cast in Bronze as an edition of six. The sculptures were sent to de Kooning’s dealer Xavier Forcade in New York, and while Forcade’s initial reaction could best be characterized as “luke-warm,” he later came to admire them greatly.  Both Fourcade and the British sculptor Henry Moore, who was visiting New York, encouraged de Kooning to expand some of the sculptures on a monumental scale. Thus, creating what Claire Stouling referred to as “… the ancient oscillation of sculpture, between the amulet and the monument.”ii  As a result of Fourcade’s and Moore’s encouragement, de Kooning enlarged and cast his first major sculpture, Seated Woman. This sculpture reaffirmed the artist’s fascination and life-long preoccupation with the female form and de Kooning himself noted in a 1960s interview for the BBC “The Women had to do with the female painted through all the ages, all those idols… The Woman became compulsive in the sense of not being able to get hold of it...”iii

       
      Seated Woman on a Bench projects de Kooning’s growing confidence and appreciation of clay as a medium. He sets aside all instruments, using neither spatulas, brushes, nor any other tools, choosing to approach his clay creation with bare hands, unmitigated by external influence. When de Kooning found his hands were suffering from the extensive work with clay, he experimented with workman’s gloves of various sizes. For Seated Woman on a Bench, he packed a pair of gloves with clay and cast them as the figure’s hands. The bench was cast from debris he found on one of his bicycle rides to Louse Point in East Hampton. 
      "in some ways, clay is even better than oil… You can work and work on a painting, but you can’t start over again with the canvas like it was before you put that first stroke down. But with clay, I cover it with a wet cloth and come back to it the next morning and if I don’t like what I did, or I changed my mind, I can break it down and start over. It’s always fresh." ivThe result is nothing short of unbridled passion and lyricism. Every mark the artist’s hand created within the material is visible. And while the image that arises in Seated Woman on a Bench is not fully figurative, it is never the less a tangible presence of the human subject, and the distance between the subject and its representations.

       

      Willem de Kooning in his studio, Springs, 1972 ©1991 Hans Namuth Estate, Courtesy Center for Creative Photography
      Willem de Kooning in his studio, Springs, 1972 ©1991 Hans Namuth Estate, Courtesy Center for Creative Photography

      Renowned art critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote in his text on de Kooning’s sculptures, “What makes all of de Kooning’s sculpture so rich – and what must modify all attempts at aesthetic analysis and psychological interpretation – is its strain of Zestful, paradoxical humor. This is his equivalent of Rodin’s electric sensuality and Giacometti’s sly, dark irony, the idiosyncratic irony of the great modern artist.”v   


      Thus, the work truly encompasses de Kooning’s essence – his body, movement, and surrounding, in one word – his world. It is one of the most remarkable sculptures created by de Kooning in the limited years he sculpted and a true emblem of a great master.
       

      i. Paul Cummings (ed.), "The sculpture of de Kooning", Willem de Kooning Drawings, Paintings, Sculptures, New York, 1983, p. 241.

      ii. Ibid. The sculpture of de Kooning, p. 242.

      iii. Willem de Kooning, exh.cat., Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, 1980, p. 26.

      iv. de Kooning a Retrospective, exh.cat, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2011, p. 411.

      v. de Kooning Drawings/Sculptures, exh. cat, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1974, unpaged.

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